Monday, April 26, 2010

Hawthorne for this little heart of mine

(Crataegus spp.)

Hawthorn is nourishing medicine for the heart. This article briefly discusses hawthorne then leaves you with two delicious recipes for hawthorne including honey and vinegar. 

Botanical name: Crataegus oxyacantha, Crataegus douglassii
Family: Rosaceae (Rose)
Parts used: leaves and flowers, berries
Properties: slightly cool/dry, cardiac trophorestorative, relaxing nervine, digestant, astringent, diuretic, antioxidant
Used for: heart related illness, cardiac weakness, stagnant digestion, regulation of blood pressure
Plant preparations: tea, tincture, vinegar, food

Hawthorn trees have a long history of medicinal use in many cultures. Traditional Chinese Medicine has documented use of hawthorns for thousands of years. Europeans used them not only for food and medicine, but also pruned them into shrubs to mark boundary lines. In North America, Natives in the Pacific Northwest used the berries as medicine and food and made a variety of different tools using the long thorns found on the tree.

The berries have been traditionally used in western herbalism, but the leaves and blossoms have a long history of use as well. The berries ripen in the late summer to fall and are anywhere from red to black depending on the species. The leaves and flowers are best when harvested in the spring, at the peak of the blossoms. I love using the leaves and blossoms as a strong infusion.

Here's a simple and delicious tea recipe that strongly supports heart health. 

Hawthorn is a cardiac trophorestorative, meaning it brings balance to the heart. It can be used for both high and low blood pressure and to regulate cholesterol levels. It is high in antioxidants, which can reduce oxidative damage on capillary walls. Its relaxing nervine properties are helpful when a person is stressed out, which puts further hardship on the heart.

Herbalists David Winston and Mathew Wood both use hawthorn for children and adults who are restless and irritable with a difficulty in focusing. In his book The Earthwise Herbal Matthew Wood shares his experience using hawthorn for an autistic child.

Paul Bergner speaks beautiful about hawthorne for the physical heart as well as the spiritual heart. Herbalist Deborah Francis uses small amounts of hawthorne in other tinctures to bring out the heart.

The Chinese have used the leaves and flowers for stagnant digestion associated with poor lipid metabolism. Indications for this include heartburn and indigestion.

Gathering the berries

When the berries are dripping from the trees in late summer I gather plenty for tincturing with brandy and infusing in vinegar. Both mixtures turn out a deep red that is reminiscent of the heart. Hawthorn berries are especially high in pectin and I’ve heard that when making hawthorn berry jam no extra pectin is needed.

Many wild berries can be infused in honey, and despite needing to pick out the seeds, I especially enjoy hawthorn honey on toast.

Hawthorne Honey
Gather enough ripe berries to fill a jar. Cover the berries with honey, stirring well to remove any air pockets.

Let the mixture sit for a couple of days to a week. I like to turn my jar over each day to further mix things up.

You can enjoy this by the spoonful and as a topping on toast. Keep in the fridge for long-term storage and be careful with the small seeds.

Hawthorne Vinegar
Extracting the benefits of hawthorne berries into vinegar gives us another way to enjoy the heart health benefits. 

  • Fill a glass jar with fresh berries. 
  • Cover the berries with apple cider vinegar. 
  • Cover with a plastic lid (or a metal lid with some type of barrier, the vinegar will corrode the metal). 
  • Let this sit for 6 weeks, giving it a shake every other day or so. You might notice it needs to be topped off with more vinegar after about a week or so. 
  • Once it is infused, strain off the berries and use the vinegar in salad dressings or as part of meat marinades.